Khaled Mounir’s Laser Red 2008 Saab 9-3 Aero Convertible often cruises the beach-adjacent streets of Venice Beach and Santa Monica… in search of parking. It's just the price one pays to live in the sun.
The “Aero” designation is reserved for Saab’s high-performance division. The 2008 Saab 9-3 Aero represented a flagship-wide “style refresh” for the Swedish car manufacturer. When matched against natural competitors such as the Audi A4, BMW 3-series or Mercedes-Benz C-Class, it is often relegated to niche status. However, one person’s “niche car” is another man’s unicorn.
Khaled Mounir is the owner of this red 2008 Saab 9-3 Aero Convertible. Though he owns other cars, like a 6-speed manual 997.2 Porsche 911 Turbo, he has always had a special place in his heart for Saabs. This one in particular, has been his special project.
Saab claimed to make over 2000 styling and performance changes to their offerings for the 2008 model year. Most impressive amongst those offerings was the upgrade to an all-wheel-drive system that Saab called “XWD” (Cross Wheel Drive). The system dedicates 90% of the engine’s power to the front wheels at cruising speeds but directs more power to the rear wheels when traction or acceleration is needed.
However, like all the other Saab 9-3 Aero convertibles built for the US market, this particular car is front wheel drive.
The upgrade in the Aero option to this metallic interior trim, as reflected in this steering wheel, took the interior design up a notch. In addition, with improved ergonomics as a design imperative for the 2008 calendar year, the driving dynamics of the car were enhanced as well.
Khaled purchased this car in 2013, initially with the intention of using it as a daily driver while staying in LA for the summer. Intending to sell it for a profit, he discovered that it was a bit of a rarity for Saabs. He calls it a unicorn. At the very least, with less than 94K miles after twelve years, it is well preserved.
One of the aspects of design that makes this particular Saab rare is the monochrome black interior - particularly the seats. Saab had a very well-known reputation for the two-tone, charcoal gray interiors. It was not a very endearing design choice for many enthusiasts.
The six-speed manual transmission is also a feature that sets this particular Saab apart from those that preceded it. The shifter itself, due to the attention to ergonomic details mentioned above, subtly signaled the driver-centric ethos that Saab was attempting to match with other brands in the performance category.
The rich black and metallic silver theme runs throughout the cockpit, seemingly as an homage to the luxury styling cues of vehicles in its class. However, there is a quirkiness to this emergency brake lever design that seems to tease convention - it matches the curved accessory rail on the opposite side of the center console.
Saab’s 2008 model year offered an OEM navigation option as well, which is another feature that makes this particular vehicle unique among Saabs. The Saab Griffin’s Head logo, which symbolizes vigilance, was inspired by the coats of arms of the southern Swedish counties of Skåne and Östergotland.
The stock 9-3 Aero wheels were 18” but Khaled opted for 19” x 8.5” wheels with an upgrade to Brembo brake pads and R1 Concept drilled rotors. The addition of the “Prancing Moose” badge is a nod to the infamous Volvo “Moose Avoidance Test” logo, developed by Dave Barton, that was a mild spoof of Ferrari.
To get a little closer to that high mark, Khaled says that had the 2.8L V6 engine tuned to "Stage Zero" by Vermont Tuning to 300 hp, and close to 400 lb-ft of torque on 91 octane pump gas. According to Khaled, these numbers improve further with higher octane, as can be expected. Either way, it's a big improvement from the stock 255 hp with 258 lb-ft of torque.
Among the many changes made to the 2008 year model were a more rounded hood and a full facelift with these LED signature adaptive bi-xenon headlights. The headlights have self-leveling sensors that adapt to the movement of the car.
The rear end represents another design change that was introduced in this model year - frosted “ice block” tails. The spoiler was also a new touch. It was a well-received change among car reviewers, adding just a touch of functional flair without being ostentatious.
Though some car enthusiasts reject convertibles, whether for a dislike of the aesthetic or the effect on structural integrity, there’s something to be said for the ability to open the driving experience to the elements. This is particularly true when the elements are friendly and inviting.
While the luxury accents in the Aero cockpit are in tune with the luxury category that Saab was targeting, the head rests (like the emergency brake) are examples of the stylish quirkiness that can only be attributed to Swedish design. They’re different and cool. Call it Scandinavian charm.
In the rear of the passenger compartment, Saab added a Passenger Head Restraint Whiplash Protection System to this model year. Some models also came with eleven Bose speakers incorporated as part of the Counterpoint Surround Sound system to immerse both driver and passengers.
Khaled really enjoys driving through the beachy areas of Southern California in his Laser Red, Prancing Moose-badged 9-3 Aero.
After getting the muffler custom tuned by a local exhaust shop to duplicate Ferrari exhaust notes, others have actually made the connection and he now jokingly calls the car “Saabararri” after hearing it from a passerby.
The search for the perfect car is a highly individual pursuit. It is not a mathematically precise exercise in algorithmic certainty. It is highly dependent upon personal style and vision. Choices and opinions will undoubtedly vary. However, what very few could contest, is the appeal of a drive near shimmering blue waters, top down, enjoying the beautiful California sunset.
Story by Avon Bellamy
Photos by Antonio Alvendia
Antonio Alvendia is an aficionado of cameras, rare wheels, hip hop, and obscure aftermarket car accessories. He bought his first E39 Touring after seeing M5 Estates on photo trips to Europe, and now has sights set on restoring a classic Mercedes. Antonio was a principal photographer on the limited edition hardcover book on Singer Vehicle Design's Porsche 911 builds, entitled One More Than Ten. Future goals include returning to the Nurburgring to shoot the N24 race and driving the Nordschleife again. ••• Instagram : @MOTORMAVENS